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Friday, April 20, 2012

Dog and cats as America’s four-legged therapists

You can’t pet a goldfish. You can’t take a hamster on a three mile run through the park. And you can’t teach an old (or young) hermit crab new tricks. Reptiles? Not the most ideal snuggle buddies on chilly evenings. Pet pigs? Those are speed bumps for the SoHo social networker on the go.

But dogs and cats, now there’s a pair that many Americans can get behind. And not just as animals worthy of all the doting our pet parenting instincts can muster, but because these animals provide a discernable psychological boost to those they interact with. True, dogs and cats have long been a staple of the practice of animal-assisted therapy for hospitalized individuals. In the 21st century, however, an increasing number of pet owners with all options open are boldly proclaiming that their cats and dogs are more than just family or companions—they are the therapy these individuals always knew they needed. It’s the reason why memoirs such as Bruce Goldstein’s Puppy Chow Is Better Than Prozac: The True Story of a Man and the Dog Who Saved His Life resonate with so many Americans.

According to Dog Population and Dog Owner Trends and Cat Population and Cat Owner Trends, twin reports just released by Packaged Facts, 75% of dog owners and 84% of cat owners agree that their pet positively impacts their mental health. Rather than footing costly therapist bills, many of these pet owners are opting to reward their four-footed therapists by purchasing higher-priced pet products and services—particularly those positioned squarely on health, as well as on other premium appeals including pampering, safety and convenience.

Bruce Goldstein describes himself as an edgy, twenty-something New Yorker, but there are many demographic varieties of pet parents. Baby Boomers recently dealing with the empty-nest stage of life, as well as other adults in households without children, are prominent among those turning to dogs and cats as mental health benefit providers. If the trend grows, as Packaged Facts believes it will, the pet industry will continue to be heavily influenced by the spending habits of Baby Boomers and other households with the discretionary income to ensure that their dogs and cats live as smartly and age as gracefully as they do, or at least have trendier meals and better toys as time takes its toll.

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